How to be the hero of you own life
By Phillip Groom, author of ‘Heroic Quest – An Optimists Guide to Life’
Whether you like it or not, life is a never-ending series of quests. A clever chap called Joseph John Campbell noticed that all myths and legends follow a similar pattern. He travelled the world investigating stories and folklore and wrote a book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In the book it says that basically all myths follow a basic cyclical formula, comprising of tests and trials that have to be passed in order for one to win the ultimate prize. Similarly, in our everyday lives, when faced with challenges, we also follow a cycle of feelings and actions until the quest is complete.
The Heroic Quest cycle, by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)
First off, we are called to action in order to sort out a problem that has cropped up in our life. We initially refuse to accept the challenge because generally we don’t like change and try to avoid it. Then we face a load of unavoidable issues and complexities that force us to cross “the threshold” and accept the adventure. Then the quest really heats up. On the way, we face tests and trials in which we are assisted by friends and helpers. This goes on for a bit, but we stay the course because it is character building and we are committed. Eventually we overcome the obstacles, usually with a really meaty “ultimate challenge” and finally return home with the prize to a hero’s welcome; brilliant! Then it all starts all over again because that’s what life does, whether we like it or not.
I was first introduced to the Heroic Quest cycle at a business seminar, where it was used to illustrate the series of events that are faced by sales people every day. The basic gist in the commercial world is that challenges occur that prevent sales. They tend to be difficult to overcome, so they are avoided, until the boss tells you to sort them out. You realise that targets may not be achieved and that you may lose your job, so you try to find solutions. This requires help from colleagues and customer advocates. A comprehensive business plan is executed and the deal is closed. This is then celebrated and rewarded with financial bonuses so that you remember to do it again next time.
I immediately recognised that this pattern of events was happening to me every day in my personal life and that I was facing loads of quests, big and small, every day. I decided from then on that when faced with challenges I would try to remember that it was completely normal – that it has been happening to people for thousands of years – and that if I followed the quest cycle to its natural end, I would eventually win through.
Life imitates art and vice versa! Nearly every decent adventure film you have seen follows this cycle. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker gets the “call” from Obi-Wan and Princess Leah. Luke initially refuses (due to obligations he promised to fulfil at home), but the bad guys ransack his home and kill his family, so he has to do something. He bumps into a 7-foot hairy Wookie and a space pirate in a bar who help him battle the dark side and the Storm Troopers. Luke narrowly escapes death a few times, has a space dogfight with Darth Vadar (the villain who also happens to be his dad), blows up the death star, and finally returns with his mates to a hero’s welcome. Big party and celebration – everybody’s happy!
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also a classic example of this cycle being used effectively. Hobbit gets call from wizard; Hobbit refuses; but evil threatens his homeland and he’s forced to start the scary journey with other Hobbits, lots of adventures; you know the drill.
Now I’m not saying that we get asked to save the world on a daily basis; however, life is full of challenges and quests for each of us. Illness, career change, divorce, bereavement, moving, changing schools, interviews, sporting events, public speaking… the list is endless. Here’s an interesting statistic: fear of public speaking is reported to be the number one fear of American adults. According to studies, public speaking is a bigger fear than death. The point is, life is a series of challenges that, as human beings, we have been tackling since we first crawled out of the primeval ooze. These quests can last 5 minutes (having a bump in your car in busy traffic), 5 hours (a job interview), 5 days (applying for a mortgage), 5 months (dealing with a relationship issue) or 5 years (a battle with a disease); the time period is variable depending on the nature and magnitude of the quest.
There is a fantastic book that illustrates beautifully the heroic quest, called Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is the true story of Elizabeth Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) looking for her ‘meaning of life’; who is she and why is she here, etc. After suffering a divorce, Liz decides to do something for herself. She jets off to Rome where she eats delicious food and meets some nice people who teach her to ‘live’ and speak Italian. Next, she travels to Delhi and joins an ashram where she learns to forgive herself through prayer and meditation. She makes more friends along the way who admire her, and she changes their lives by helping them learn to love and forgive. She ends her year-long quest in Bali, where she is guided by a medicine man named Ketut. She finally lets go of her past and finds her balance in life while learning to love again.
Elizabeth summarizes her experience with a great paragraph that she calls the “Physics of the Quest”:
“If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.”
Accept the challenge and battle through the cycle until you get the prize. Challenges are part of life, they are unavoidable and they follow a pattern, so try to embrace them and tackle them with positive thinking, optimism and self-belief, because the alternative is miserable. If you can face life’s quests with a smile on your face, you are on the path to happiness.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure, in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” ~ Christopher Reeve, Superman (1952-2004)
Phil was born in South Wales in the U.K., where he currently lives with his wife and daughter. Graduating as a geologist, he initially worked on oil rigs in the USA and Dutch North Sea, but for the past 20 years he has had a successful career in the highly competitive world of pharmaceutical sales, working with health care professionals and government officials.
He has a talent for ‘gisting’, which is the ability to take complex ideas explain them quickly and simply.
His humorous, conversational approach makes it feel as though Phil is speaking to you directly, giving his writing a unique and accessible style.
He has travelled extensively, picking up gems of wisdom along the way and he says he will pretty much try anything once. This has resulted in many wild adventures including being the target for a circus knife thrower in Cairo! Heroic Quest is a collection of tools, tips, facts and quotes which form an amusing and easy to use guide to achieving lasting happiness and success.
‘Heroic Quest – An Optimists Guide to Life’ is available as an e book now from Amazon. http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=heroic+quest&sprefix=heroic+quest%2Caps%2C193